A Perfect Match

Tennis racquets and a ball to illustrate our uplifting short story

What could be more important than front row seats at the sporting event of the summer? Valerie had no idea…

“You cannot be serious!” John said.

He and Valerie were staring at their daughter and son-in-law, perplexed.

“Wimbledon tickets? Centre court? The men’s final?”

Valerie exchanged looks with her husband and they both began to laugh.

“What? What’s funny?” Charlotte asked, looking puzzled.

“You cannot be serious?” John said again, in a fake American accent. “It’s just such an iconic Wimbledon phrase…”

Charlotte looked at him blankly.

“John McEnroe? 1981?”

No glint of understanding. John sighed.

“I suppose it’s an age thing…”

“But you can’t give them to us. Why aren’t you and David going?” Valerie asked. “You were both thrilled to bits when you got tickets.”

“We’re…” Charlotte began, before floundering to a halt.

“Yes,” David said, taking over, “there’s something we… somewhere we… there’s something important we have to do,” he finished lamely.

“But you both live for Wimbledon! There can’t be anything more important!”

But there was.

“Do you think we should have told them?” David asked when Valerie and John had left, clutching the precious tickets in bemusement.

“No,” Charlotte said firmly. “Not yet. I still can’t quite believe it’s happening, and Mum would get so excited and ask so many questions and I wouldn’t even know most of the answers yet.

“And I keep thinking something might still go wrong.”

Her lip was trembling and David put an arm round her.

“Yes, I know what you mean. I nearly told my mum when she rang last night, but… well, the same thing, really. It felt as if I’d be tempting fate.”

“Like painting her room, you mean?” Charlotte said, with a tremulous smile at the thought. “By this time tomorrow our world will have turned upside down. At least… At least I hope it will.”

“Thank goodness you work for yourself,” David said, squeezing her hand. “You don’t have to let your boss know or anything. And I’m going to have to see how much time off they’ll let me have…”

He gazed at Charlotte in wonder.

“Paternity leave. I was beginning to doubt it would ever happen…”

The last few months had been a rollercoaster of emotions, Charlotte thought with a shudder: delirious happiness one minute, blackest despair the next.

It had simply never occurred to her that conceiving a baby would be so difficult.

They’d spent several years trying their best to avoid a pregnancy, for heaven’s sake, while they got on with their careers and created a home. Children had always been part of their agenda, but not until they were ready. It was all planned.

How could they have been so arrogant? Charlotte wondered. Just assuming everything would go according to their carefully worked out timetable.

We’ll have a baby when we’re thirty, they’d assured each other. Plenty of time.

But their thirtieth birthdays had come and gone.

It’s bound to take a bit longer as you got older, they’d said. Thirty-something would be fine.

But nothing had happened. And all their friends had started producing children right, left and centre, until every dinner party entailed endless discussions about lack of sleep, or croup, or even when to start thinking about having another.

And then their friends would look at their watches and dash back for the babysitter.

Charlotte and David had started being ‘busy’ when invited out.

But they couldn’t do that with their families, and that had been unbearable too.

It had started with gentle teasing – when were they going to be grandparents? Hadn’t they better get on with it? Patter of tiny feet? The clock was ticking…

And then – gradually – the teasing stopped (which was worse) and both sets of parents carefully skirted round the subject.

Charlotte and David hadn’t told their parents about the three attempts at IVF that had failed.

It was so she wouldn’t have to see the disappointment in their eyes, Charlotte told herself, but really it was because she couldn’t bear to talk about it.

Eventually David suggested they should approach an adoption agency.

Months of meetings had followed, where Charlotte had felt as if every single aspect of her life was being inspected. And probably found wanting, she’d thought miserably.

They were warned that their chances of adopting a newborn were slim, that older children could be challenging, and that they shouldn’t get their hopes up.

But at last they were on the list, waiting while the agency went through the long process of finding ‘the perfect match’.

When they were a bit further down the line – when they felt confident that it was really going to happen – that would be the moment to tell their parents.

“What we must do is fill every spare minute,” David had said one evening, “so we won’t have time to think about it.”

He’d started booking holidays and mini breaks, theatre and cinema trips, and trying every sport they could think of.

“What if we’re out when the adoption people make one of their spot checks?” Charlotte had asked.

But they hadn’t been out. There had been a knock on the door yesterday evening, and everything had changed.

Marie, their adoption liaison officer, was standing on the step, twisting her car keys nervously in her hand.

Charlotte eyed the woman’s clipboard and her heart sank.

Her mind instantly focused on the state of the sitting room: the ironing board was up in front of the television (she’d been watching Wimbledon); there were newspapers all over the sofa (David had been searching for an article about paddle boarding he’d read a day or two ago), and a vase of dead sweet peas was drooping on the table.

“Oh dear, I was just about to get rid of those,” Charlotte said, jerking her head in the direction of the flowers, and hurriedly gathering up the newspaper so that Marie could sit down.

“I’ve been dreading you seeing the house like this, and now here you are…” Charlotte tailed off.

Marie looked puzzled.

“I hope you haven’t been worrying about little things like spread-out newspapers all these months,” she said in surprise. “That’s not the sort of thing we care about at all.”

“Then… why are you here? Are there more forms to fill in?”

To Charlotte’s relief, Marie laughed.

“Well, there will be,” she said, “lots of them, I’m afraid, but this evening I came to give you good news.”

Charlotte felt the world stop turning, and was aware that David, standing beside her, had stopped breathing.

“There’s a baby…” Marie began, but Charlotte barely heard her.

She was vaguely aware that another woman – due to take the baby home in two days’ time – had been diagnosed with a serious illness and couldn’t go through with the planned adoption after all.

The foster mother currently looking after the two-month-old little girl had arranged to foster three more children in just a few days’ time, and couldn’t manage more.

Charlotte tried to imagine how devastated she would feel if, after all this, she was found to be too ill to adopt.

The pain would be crippling, and her heart went out to the other prospective parents, but at the same time she couldn’t help the bubble of joy that was inflating in her chest.

In two days – just two days! – they would be parents!

Two days in which to buy a pram, a cot, teddies, tiny garments, a mountain of newborn-size nappies, bottles, a steriliser, a bath thermometer… All the millions of bits of equipment that a tiny new life required, all the things she had read about and longed to buy for years…

Marie was still talking.

“So we’d bring Serena to you on…”

“Serena?” Charlotte asked, coming out of her dream world abruptly.

“Yes…” Marie said, frowning. “You will be able to change her name, of course…”

“Serena,” David said, musingly.

“Her birth mother is a tennis fan apparently,” Marie said. “So, we’ll deliver the baby on Sunday if that’s…”

“Men’s final day,” David said, smiling.

“You weren’t going to that, were you?” Marie asked.

“Not any more,” David said firmly. “We’ll be right here. Ready to welcome Serena.” His eyes were wet with tears.

“Your parents are here,” David called up the stairs on Sunday evening as a dark blue car drew up outside the house.

“I’ll be down in a second,” Charlotte called back, her voice still tremulous as it had been ever since Marie and Serena had appeared that morning.

She could hear her mother’s voice even before she was in the house.

“… all very mysterious. We were going straight home; it’s quite a tiring day going to Wimbledon, isn’t it?

“Well, it is at our age. I didn’t used to get so tired. But when I read Charlotte’s text, well obviously we were intrigued, weren’t we, John? So we came straight here.

“I must say, I could do with a cup of tea. Pimm’s and strawberries are all very well, but nothing beats a cuppa, does it? Shall I pop and put the kettle on?”

Before David could reply, Valerie was heading for the kitchen, still talking.

“It was an absolutely perfect match, I can’t tell you. You must really be regretting not going. I kept saying to John, ‘They must be kicking themselves for giving us their tickets, there can’t be anyth…”

The stream of words stopped abruptly.

“Valerie,” John called, “are you OK? What’s wrong?”

Valerie reappeared in the hall, and she looked at David questioningly.

“Come and sit down,” he said, ushering his parents-in-law into the sitting room. Valerie had gone white.

“There are bottles in the kitchen,” she murmured. “Baby bottles. And a steriliser. What’s… what’s happening?”

But before David could choose his words there was a small mewing sound, and Charlotte came in holding a bundle topped with silky blonde hair framing a tiny rosebud mouth and button nose.

Little starfish hands were waving aimlessly as interested blue eyes surveyed the scene.

“Before you ask, we’d been on the list to adopt for months,” Charlotte said happily, before David took over:

“…and on Friday we got a call…”

“…we were going to tell you earlier…”

“…but we didn’t expect it to happen so quickly and we didn’t want you to be disappointed…”

“…she’s seven weeks and three days old today…”

“…her name’s Serena…”

“…and you’re grandparents!” Charlotte finished, looking radiant.

In the sudden pause they could hear the kettle switching itself off with a loud click in the kitchen.

“Would you still like a cup of tea, or shall I open a bottle of fizz?” David asked.

When he returned with a bottle and a tray of glasses, Valerie was sitting with Serena on her knee, and the two were gazing delightedly at each other.

“I haven’t heard your mother this quiet for years,” John said gruffly, looking equally entranced. “Don’t hold on to her too long, love, I want a cuddle too!”

“Plenty of time for that,” David said, smiling.

“Little Serena’s got a couple of months of cuddles to catch up on, and we’ve been waiting a very long time for this ourselves.

“Oh,” he said, suddenly frowning. “I’ve just thought, have you got your diaries with you? If we manage to get tickets for Wimbledon next year, I should warn you, you’re on babysitting duty!”

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